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Korean department stores struggle

Chinese travellers have emerged as one of the few bright spots for Korean department stores suffering from dull domestic consumption.

The arrival of a new demographic of consumers has prompted an all-out fight to attract deep-pocketed clients, industry officials told Yonhap.

Sales at department stores inched down 0.4 per cent on-year to 29.22 trillion won (US$23.69 billion) in 2015, Statistics Korea showed, mostly attributable to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) outbreak and rapidly rising online marketplaces.

While consumption among locals has steadily slowed over the past years, major department stores in downtown Seoul saw growing sales among Chinese nationals.

At Lotte Department Store in the famous shopping district of Myeongdong, sales by Chinese customers accounted for 18.1 per cent of the total, rising 6.8 per cent from a year ago.

At the nearby Shinsegae Department Store, sales by Chinese customers rose 21.8 per cent in 2015 from a year ago, though the pace slowed from 131 per cent in 2014 and 87 per cent in 2013 in the wake of the Mers outbreak. The store did not release exact sales figures.

Foreign luxury watch and jewellery brands topped their shopping list, while leading Korean fashion and cosmetic brands were also picked up by Chinese travellers.

Among them, the Seoul-based luxury bag manufacturer MCM was the second-most selling brand by the Chinese, while sunglass brand Gentle Monster and Amore Pacific’s high-end cosmetic line Sulhwasoo were named as popular items.

“While the Chinese mostly preferred foreign luxury brands and local cosmetic brands, a wider range of Korean products have been selling among Chinese customers,” said Park Young-hwan, a marketing official at Lotte Department Store.

In response to the changing consumption trends, Korean department stores have launched a variety of promotional events through social networking services and invited China’s popular bloggers to embrace rich Chinese customers.

Some stores have even assigned assistants for VIP customers to provide guidance while they shop. Others have offered limousines and pick-up services.

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